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Guest opinion: Why forest lovers should support a bike corridor to the coast

Posted by Steph Routh (Guest Contributor) on December 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am

The Salmonberry Corridor would connect Banks
to Tillamook on the Oregon Coast.
(Map by Oregon State Parks & Rec)

Turning the broken Salmonberry rail line into a biking, walking and horse-riding corridor between Washington County and the Pacific Coast has some of our neighbors worried that it'll interfere with Oregonians' age-old connection to the forest.

I get the concern, because my family has loved this forest for generations. But here's what I see: Connectivity is what this proposed facility does best. Let’s connect more people to Oregon’s beauty, to the traditions I grew up with, and to a more resilient local economy.

When I first heard about the Salmonberry Corridor project, my thoughts were mixed. It's a cool idea and use for a pre-existing, troubled rail alignment; but Northwest Oregon currently has many needs that are unfunded (Barbur Boulevard, 82nd Avenue, multi-modal improvements along Highway 101 main streets, etc.). Frankly, I was skeptical that adding a new path to the Coast was a priority.

"The Tillamook Forest is a special, hallowed place for anyone whose family has lived in the area, and I for one hope more people can access its breathtaking beauty alongside those who have called the area home."
— Steph Routh, 4th-generation Oregonian

Then I attended the open house and, while project staff explained the project, imagined riding through Tillamook Forest with my niece and nephew. I was completely hooked. We need funded multi-modal solutions along urban highways and highway-main streets, and we need off-highway connections.

A number of folks from Cycle Wild, a group that seeks to connect people with nature via the bicycle, attended the Banks open house a few months back to support this project. Cycle Wild trips use Highway 6 to get from the Portland area to Cape Lookout; we often hear people angrily yell, "Get off the road!" while we're hugging the shoulder.

As we stated in the Banks open house, we'd love to grant those people their wish. The Salmonberry Trail is the perfect opportunity for a safe ride to the coast. The proposed alignment also creates a safer biking experience along Highway 101 and would separate cycling from auto/freight traffic, which was an expressed hope of one over-the-road trucker present at the Banks open house.

Most other open house attendees were 3rd- to 5th-generation Oregonians. Many came because they had heard that this new path would take away hunting access. Families represented at the open house have been hunting in the forest for generations, so this was a perceived threat not just to hunting access but to a way of life, to their personal relationship with the forest.

The author.
(Photo courtesy Steph Routh)

I can understand this. I am a 4th-generation Oregonian. My grandfather worked in the forest in the timber industry. Fun fact: my great-grandmother Mary L. Roberts covered the Tillamook Burn for the Forest Grove Times and the Associated Press. My gramps' ashes are scattered in the forest, and I wave to him every trip I take to the coast. My family has hunted in the forest. The Tillamook Forest is a special, hallowed place for anyone whose family has lived in the area, and I for one hope more people can access its breathtaking beauty alongside those who have called the area home. The Salmonberry Corridor Trail would do that.

I hope that, through this planning process, we can come to a shared understanding that the Salmonberry Corridor can actually provide better hunting access to local residents (one man present at the Banks open house stated that he bikes to hunt). This project can literally provide a pathway to developing a personal relationship with and appreciation for one of the most beautiful places on this earth (in my humble Oregonian opinion).

There are fishing and swimming holes that Gramps took me to that I have not been able to find on a map since. The whole area is bathed in wonder and discovery. I also hope we can take a step back and realize that we are not talking about paving the entire forest; this is barely a thread wending through an expansive area where railroads have gone before.

A few attendees were adjacent property owners to the Banks-Vernonia Trail and noted that littering and trespassing had actually decreased since the path was opened (though there are still of course the occasional trespassers), and that the area is actually cleaned more often thanks to trail stewards. The biggest positive note, however, was what the Salmonberry could potentially do for local economies. A few folks cited Vernonia's improved economy due to the Banks-Vernonia Trail; according to some present, Timber's economy could use the boost that Vernonia received. The woman from Friends of the Banks-Vernonia Trail was incredibly eloquent and thoughtful.

Finally, one of the most memorable testimonials from someone present, a Banks resident, went something like this: "This trail is for us! I hear people talking about how much this trail will cost. Do you have any idea how much money we spend in foreign countries every year? That's money coming out of our pockets that we'll never see again. This project invests in us. Maybe we have concerns about some of the details and how this or that should be done, but this trail is an investment in us."

— Steph Routh lives in Portland's Lents neighborhood. She is the former executive director of Oregon Walks and a founding board member of Cycle Wild. You can share your thoughts on the Salmonberry Corridor planning process by emailing Oregon State Parks planner rocky.houston@state.or.us or calling him at 503-986-0750. The next set of public meetings on the issue will be scheduled for late February.

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Comments
  • Dave December 16, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I have cycled the area the trail will go through on paved roads for 35 years; the idea of this trail makes me giggly and eager for long days on a bike. Don't care if Rush Limbaugh, Rob Ford, and the Klan also want this trial--it just looks awesome!

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  • Scott Mizée December 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    "I for one hope more people can access its breathtaking beauty alongside those who have called the area home. The Salmonberry Corridor Trail would do that."

    I share Steph's excitement about the Salmonberry It is an amazing opportunity to leave a worthwhile legacy for future generations!

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  • GlowBoy December 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    This trail would be fantastic. And it's drawing the same kind of opposition (or at least concerns) that ALL long distance trail projects create:

    1. Neighbors worry about vandalism, illegal camping and campfires, and trespassing. Those fears always prove to be largely unfounded once the trail opens, and those same people who opposed the trail always trumpet "adjacent to XXXX trail!" on their real estate flyers when they sell their properties years down the road, having learned how much it increased their property value.

    2. People already using the corridor complain they'll "lose access" even when there won't be any restrictions to (non-motorized, at least) access. What they're really concerned with either losing the ability to ride dirtbikes down the trail, or having to share with more people. Reality is a trail like this is not going to get very heavy use, once you get a few miles from a trailhead, and there will still be plenty of opportunities for solitude.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you Steph and others (Cycle Wild'ers) for attending this and other past project meetings.

    This proposed facility will be a great improvement on traffic safety for those cycling and driving through the area, especially commercial freight. The existing Banks-Vernonia trail is a great rails to trails facility model that I have used to introduce my family members and novice bike tourers to the pleasure of bike camping.

    The existence of the trail has also let us stay and shop local in Banks and Vernonia when we camp there, as we used to skip the area before it existed. We now buy our groceries, camp fuel and adult beverages locally at the Jim's Thiftway and the Sentry Market. A lighter load makes the trip easier for novice tourers.

    I hope the new trail to the coast also has plans for BLM type/ primitive hiker biker sites to rest at too.

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  • Aaron December 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece. I would say that, of the many people I've talked to about long-distance cycling, all of them have brought up one or more points that you have mentioned Stephanie. The most poignant for nearby residents would be the economic benefits that businesses in Vernonia have seen as a result of the trail. I can personally attest to the amount of food (and beer) that bike-tourists consume (yes the latter is hauled to the campsite before being opened). If you don't believe me, feel free to look up the term 'benefits of bicycles on local economy' either on Bikeportland or google.

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  • Terry D December 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    The bike tourism benefits can not be underestimated. As more paved paths are built more will come. Long term, the investment will pay for itself quickly I am sure. Locally, I am very interested to see how Boring takes up this mantle now that the Springwater is paved. All sorts of "interested but concerned" can now take day trips there where before they would have turned back at gravel.

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  • TK December 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Beautifully written and persuasively argued. However, posting here is like preaching to the choir. Any chance you might consider sending this as a Letter to the Editor of The Oregonian? That is the audience who needs convincing.

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  • Dick Schouten December 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Steph, thanks for your eloquent, heartfelt post. The proposed Trail would be good for NW Oregon's rural economy and could become an important exemplar for other parts of rural Oregon, where there is presently so much economic pain and suffering.

    Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten

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  • Steph Routh (Guest Contributor) December 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Dick, thank you (as always!) for your thoughts and leadership.

    TK, indeed, BikePortland is a pretty darn supportive (and thoughtful!) venue for this post. It would be great if more members of the choir could contact project staff and engage in the process/dialogue going forward. Project staff could certainly stand to hear a little louder preaching from more supporters.

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  • dwainedibbly December 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    As a 1st generation Oregonian (and the last of my line), I like it, too.

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  • Psyfalcon December 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    At least one proposal did have a no shooting corridor within a mile of the trail. That would be big, and net a lot of no votes. Has that actually been removed from the plan?

    That sort of no shooting zone does exist for any other trails, paths, or roads.

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  • Nancy Hales December 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Love the idea - and everything it would do for our region, thanks, Steph!

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  • Ted Buehler December 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Folks -- if you want to see this happen, make sure you and all your friends send in positive feedback to Rocky at the email listed above.

    It typically takes a *lot* of positive public comment to make these things happen in a reasonable period of time. Pe up his inbox and voicemail with your enthusiastic comments.

    Great article, Steph, thanks for the info.

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  • Barbara R December 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    The state employee (Mr. Houston) should not delay this project. Concerns should be answered, and project kept on a timeline. Done.

    Please call your Salem Lawmaker!

    Plead that lawmakers call or email Mr. Houston to move it forward. Remember that all Portland Area lawmakers (except 3) voted to spend 5-10billion to add a few lanes to a Suburban sprawl freeway that will kill jobs and put us in deep long debt. This Berry trail will make jobs & reduce debt. Call your Salem Lawmaker too!

    http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/FindYourLegislator/leg-districts.html

    New lawmaker maps too!

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  • Blake December 17, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I am supportive of the trail. But last time I checked, 1st generation Oregonians get the same voting rights as 2nd-5th generation Oregonians. This op-ed plays up the support of the latter over the former as if their opinions were more valid or more important.

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  • bikesalot December 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    My family strongly supports this plan. We ride the State Trail almost monthly year-around, and continue to Astoria-Ft Stevens and back every August for a bicycle retreat. The Salmonberry would provide a very welcome alternative route to the coast which we would surely use every year. Cycling to Tillamook without going through the Arch Cape Tunnel!

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  • Peter R December 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Don't pave it! Keep it finely crushed stone. I used to live near a converted 57 mile rail-trail from Lebanon 2 Boscawen, NH. It has zero miles of paved trail and was an awesome ride. Price drops significantly when you eliminate paving.

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    • Dave December 18, 2013 at 8:05 am

      Lief Ericson, for instance, is comfortably rideable on 28c road tires--greavel can be an excellent cycling surface.

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  • Barbara R December 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Amen. Even normal tires can ride stone alternatives. I say Yes to the many packed gravel and stone alternatives. I just rode those with my kid. Rode all the way from DC to Pittsburgh with no cars. It's called the GAP trail and Toe Path trail.

    THe BTA should ask members to join the rails to trails movement.

    THeir newsletter below is awesome. THey are going to the supreme court.

    THis story is a must read. Rich people v public access.

    http://community.railstotrails.org/blogs/trailblog/archive/2013/10/21/rails-to-trails-conservancy-to-defend-rail-trails-in-the-supreme-court.aspx

    http://support.railstotrails.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=19221.0&printer_friendly=1

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  • GlowBoy December 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I would expect that a trail like this would remain unpaved, as are the Lower Deschutes Rail-Trail, most of the Klickitat Trail, and the Crown Zellerbach Trail.

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